Satoru Nakagawa

Satoru Nakagawa
Me and My Guitar

Self published

By Kurt Fitzsimmons
April 2013

There's a saying in Japan that goes something like: “turn poison into medicine.”

The positive aspect of the proverb prompted native son Satoru Nakagawa, guitarist and singer of Boston's Tokyo Tramps, to create this five-track CD of original solo songs - most sounding like they came straight from the Mississippi Delta.

Satoru, who came to the U.S. two decades ago because of his love of American music, was troubled when Tramps drummer Kosei Fukuyama decided to move back to Japan just as the three-piece Tramps were readying for a run in the Boston Blues Challenge. Rather than wait another year, Satoru, a talented slide guitarist, decided to enter the challenge as a solo act.

“To my surprise, I found myself really getting into it,” he said. “It's a very different experience from playing in a band. Also I found myself getting closer to the essence of the blues. The Delta blues is so deep that I thought I could never play with the authentic feel to it, but now I feel like I can do more.”

The disc opens with “Good Morning Marietta” a saga about a frenzied 2011 road trip the Tramps made to Marietta, Ohio, for a 20-minute set in the Ohio blues challenge. They won, and the song is about the experience. This version sounds like Muddy Waters, although Satoru said he was initially inspired by T-Bone Walker and Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Either way, he said the song did not work well for the band and was rearranged several times before Muddy's acoustic style came ambling through.

I also found a Muddy Waters, and perhaps Elmore James, aspect to “No Time Man Blues,” which was originally written for Tramps' vocalist-bassist Yukiko Fujii - Satoru's wife - to sing during a difficult time dealing with her mother's illness. The title was changed so he could sing it, and the guitar playing is as thick and swampy as the Sunflower River that runs through Clarksdale, Miss.

Which is a nice segue to the next song, “Down to the River,” a classic blues tale of a guy looking for his gal: “I want to wear my three-piece suit and take my lady to a nice cafe.”

Satoru, who lived in New Orleans when he first came to the U.S., said he often went to the banks of the Mississippi River in the Crescent City to watch steamboats rolling by. He used that scenario for the song, which he arranged to sound like Son House. The guitar part is from House's “Death Letter,” and Satoru acknowledges it's a tricky song to play, although listeners wouldn't notice any problems.

The last two songs, the title track “Me and My Guitar,” and “Mojo Boogie” take inspiration from Lightnin' Hopkins and Jimmy Reed, including a Jimmy Reed guitar technique 'splained to Satoru by our own Professor Harp, who knows a thing or two about unique tension and sounds in music.

“Mojo Boogie” is a buffet of Delta styles with a southern boogie feel.

Satoru's vocals are in a higher range than most blues fans are used to, but his pronunciation of English words has improved immensely. I heard only one hint of an accent: “sous' rather than “south.” That's OK - it gives his music a shot of sake. Satoru's guitar playing, however, is pure American Delta Blues - and you can tell he loves it, feels it and can communicate it.

Satoru plans to book some solo shows, and the CD will be sold at them. Check it out. It's time we got back to the blues around here.

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